English Literature
Law Like Love

Law Like Love

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The Complex Concepts of Law and Love in W.H. Auden's "Law Like Love"

Defining abstract ideas like law and love is a difficult task for anyone, and renowned poet W.H. Auden struggled to do so in his 1939 poem "Law Like Love." Through this poem, the speaker comes to the realization that both law and love are closely intertwined and cannot be easily defined due to their ever-changing and intricate nature.

"Law Like Love" at a Glance

First published in 1939, "Law Like Love" was written by British-American poet W.H. Auden, during a time of great social and political turmoil as World War II ravaged the world. Auden himself was also experiencing a personal transformation during this time. The poem was later republished in Auden's 1940 collection, Another Time.

Auden was born into a privileged family in England in 1907 and was already a successful left-wing poet and playwright before moving to the United States in 1939. Less than a year later, Britain declared war on Germany, and Auden witnessed the devastation of war during his trip to Spain earlier in the decade. This inspired him to write about the Spanish Civil War and see firsthand how laws deteriorated and were manipulated by the Nazi Party in Germany.

His political beliefs were heavily influenced by Karl Marx's theories of socialism and communism, though he was critical of radical communism in places like the Soviet Union. "Law Like Love" reflects on the concept of law during this tumultuous time in history.

The poem also delves into the elusive nature of love, which Auden had personal experience with. In the same year it was published, Auden fell in love with Chester Kallman and described their relationship as a "marriage." However, their relationship only lasted two years as Auden wanted monogamy while Kallman did not. Nevertheless, the two continued to live together platonically until Auden's death in 1973.

"Law Like Love" Summary

The poem highlights the fact that everyone has a unique interpretation of law based on their individual experiences and perceptions. Some see law as the sun, while others view it as wisdom, their senses, or even religious teachings. Judges may see law simply as "the Law," while scholars see it as fluid and ever-changing. Law can be a result of collective decisions or the solitary wishes of an individual. The speaker ultimately concludes that there is no one definitive definition of law, and it remains a mystery. Similarly, love is also defined by personal experiences and remains shrouded in unknowns. The speaker notes that both law and love can bring tears to our eyes, yet as humans, we struggle to fully commit to either one.

The speaker uses metaphors and similes to try and define law, emphasizing its subjective and changeable nature.

"Law Like Love" Structure

The structure of "Law Like Love" reflects the speaker's argument that law and love are difficult to define and have no concrete boundaries. The poem's irregular structure, with varying stanza and line lengths, represents how everyone has a different understanding of law based on their own experiences, prejudices, and cultural backgrounds.

However, there is a semblance of structure in terms of content. The first half of the poem focuses on defining law through individual experiences, while the second half explores its relationship with love.

"Law Like Love" Analysis

The poem makes use of literary devices such as metaphor, repetition, simile, anaphora, and alliteration.

The title itself is a simile, and metaphor plays a significant role in the poem. The speaker uses metaphors to define law, constantly shifting and contradicting the previous definitions, highlighting its ever-changing and subjective nature.

The use of literary devices in "Law Like Love" enhances the complexity and enigmatic nature of the concepts of law and love, leaving readers with more questions than answers.

A Reflection on Auden's "Law Like Love"

The poem "Law Like Love" by W.H. Auden opens with the bold declaration that law is as essential as the sun, providing life and guidance to those who rely on it for their livelihoods. This analogy sets the tone for the rest of the poem as it explores the many interpretations and contradictions of law.

The second stanza highlights how law is seen as the wisdom of the old for some and the senses of the young for others, demonstrating the influence of personal experiences and perspectives on one's understanding of law. As the poem progresses, different metaphors are used to further illustrate the complexity and subjectivity of law.

However, the speaker also acknowledges a flaw in solely relying on personal interpretations of law, stating, "Unlike so many men, I cannot say Law is again." This reveals the selfishness and lack of objectivity in how law is enforced, leading the speaker to question the true meaning of law and distancing themselves from the metaphor "Law is...".

The use of simile, specifically comparing law to love, deepens the connection between the two concepts. In the final stanza, the speaker declares that "Like Love I say," emphasizing the similarities between law and love. This is further highlighted through the repetition of "Like Love" and the anaphora that follows, emphasizing how both law and love are limited and fallible aspects of human life.

It is worth noting the strategic use of repetition in the poem, particularly with the word "law." This serves to emphasize the central theme and keep the focus on defining law.

The overall message of the poem is that law, like love, cannot be confined to a single ideal. It must be adaptable and understanding, considering the diversity of humanity. Auden challenges the reader to look beyond personal biases and strive for a more empathetic and open-minded approach to both law and love.

Ultimately, "Law Like Love" serves as a reminder that while law may seem straightforward, it is actually a multifaceted and ever-evolving aspect of society. It is flawed, as it is created and enforced by imperfect individuals, but it remains a crucial component of our lives and should be approached with compassion and understanding.


Auden's masterful use of metaphors, similes, anaphora, and repetition effectively delves into the complexity of law. Through "Law Like Love," he challenges readers to question their own understanding of law and strive for a more inclusive and compassionate society. This thought-provoking poem encourages introspection and critical thinking about the complexities of law and human nature.

The Power of Repetition in W.H. Auden's "Law Like Love"

W.H. Auden's poem, "Law Like Love," utilizes repetition to convey the idea that law is subjective and continuously changing based on individual perspectives. The repetition of the word "priest" emphasizes the speaker's emphasis on religion's influence on law and how even devout religious individuals use it to their advantage. This highlights the tendency for people to use law as a means of separating themselves from others and imposing their own beliefs.

The speaker also repeats the word "others" to emphasize the diversity of human experiences, identities, and opinions. This repetition highlights the fact that there is no universally accepted understanding of law and that each person's interpretation is shaped by their unique experiences and beliefs.

The Role of Alliteration and Tone

The use of repetition also affects the tone of the poem through powerful alliteration. The strong emphasis on the "L" sound in the title "Law Like Love" creates a calm and reflective tone, which is immediately contrasted by the harsh alliteration in the first half of the poem. This juxtaposition highlights the cacophony of different interpretations and perspectives on law and love.

As the poem progresses, the alliteration shifts to focus on the "L" sound, creating a more tender and soothing tone. This repetition of "Like Love" at the end of the poem emphasizes the speaker's realization that both law and love should be gentle, nurturing, and adaptable.

Reading the poem aloud, one can observe the tension between the "L" alliteration and the other harsher alliterative sounds, further emphasizing the conflicting views surrounding law and love.

In Summary

Auden's "Law Like Love" uses various literary devices, specifically repetition and alliteration, to effectively explore the multifaceted nature of law. The poem encourages readers to challenge their understanding of law and strive for a more empathetic and inclusive society. "Law Like Love" is a relevant and thought-provoking composition that prompts critical thinking about law and the human experience.

The Complexities of Law and Love in "Law Like Love" by W. H. Auden

The poem "Law Like Love" by W. H. Auden delves into the themes of individual perception and the limitations of humanity in understanding and defining law and love.

The Subjectivity of Law

The speaker in "Law Like Love" recognizes the inherent flaws in human nature and the impact it has on our understanding of law. Personal biases and experiences shape our individual reality, and this is reflected in our interpretation of law. The poem highlights how each person's understanding of law is subjective, often clouded by their own biases and emotions. Despite this, everyone believes they have a true understanding of law, further emphasizing its subjective nature.

Influenced by the turmoil of World War II, the poem also acknowledges the limitations of humanity in comprehending and abiding by law. The speaker questions whether anyone can truly understand what is right and wrong in regards to law and morality, highlighting the fallibility of humankind.

The Comparison to Love

Through the use of repetition, the poem draws parallels between law and love, both being fluid concepts that are difficult to fully grasp and enforce. The speaker notes the similarities between the two, such as how we cannot force others to abide by either and how they can both bring us to tears. Both are also constantly changing and often fail to keep us committed.


Overall, "Law Like Love" challenges readers to question their own understanding of law and its role in society. The poem highlights the subjectivity and limitations of humanity in defining and comprehending law, drawing parallels to the enigmatic nature of love. It serves as a reminder that while we may never fully understand law, we must still strive to abide by it.

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